The ability to work flexibly is one of the top five priorities when choosing a job for 24 per cent of people rising to 32 per cent for millennials, according to research from Great Place to Work®. Yet despite its popularity, not all employers offer flexible working and if they do there is often a mismatch between what employees want and what they offer. For example, flexitime is important for 45 per cent of employees but only 37 per cent of employers offer it meaning employers risk losing out on talent. 

Flexible working can be as much about the needs of the business as it is about employees. Providing a range of flexible working options means organisations can improve attraction, retention and performance levels; offer customers a more competitive global, 24 hour service and reduce costs through downsizing office space.

What makes flexible working successful for some organisations but not for others? Great Place to Work® analysed the data from a sample of organisations and compared the findings to top performing organisations such as the UK’s Best Workplaces. They found that, whilst technology is indeed a great enabler, if other factors are either missing or poor, flexible working is less likely to be successful. The research identified six critical factors: 

 

  • Trust
  • Organisational culture
  • Management
  • Performance management
  • Technology
  • Resources

 

The most important of these is trust. 

Trust 

The level of trust in organisations varies from a low 55 per cent in the average organisation to a high 85 per cent in top performing organisations like the UK’s Best Workplaces. In high trust organisations employers put the needs of their employees first rather than the business and consequently tend to offer a more comprehensive range of flexible working options; in low trust organisations employees often feel they are expected to put the business’s needs ahead of their own . It is therefore no surprise that just 22 per cent of average organisations offer working from home compared to 75 per cent of Best Workplaces. Whilst it is fairly self-evident that employers need to trust that employees are indeed working when they say they are working from home, a trusting culture goes beyond this.  For example, high trust organisations tend to be more supportive of employees’ work/life balance. In the average organisation only 48 per cent of employees felt they were encouraged to balance their work and personal lives compared to 76 per cent at Best Workplaces. Managers in high trust organisations tend to trust employees more to get on with their jobs; the manager who constantly looks over his employees’ shoulders when they’re working in the office is less likely to trust them when they are working from home. 

 

 

 Average organisation (Trust levels 55 per cent)

 Best-in-class organisations (Trust levels 85 per cent)

Offer working from home 

 22%

 75%

 Encourage work/life balance

 48%

 76%

 Managers trust employees to do their job without looking over their shoulders

 63%

 88%

 Managers avoid favouritism

 38%

 72%

 Employees are able to take time off from work when necessary

 62%

 88%

 

 

 


Hand-in-hand with trust is fairness. In some organisations employees see other teams having more favourable flexible working terms than they do. This could either be a legacy from a previous manager, individual managers’ interpretation of their flexible working policies, or managers’ differing attitudes towards flexible working. For example, the research found that flexible working and work-life balance were less important to directors and managers compared to non-managers and supervisors. Here role modelling with senior leaders working flexibly can send an important message to an organisation’s workforce. For example, Capital One’s CIO, Rob Harding, started to lead the way by creating space to pursue coaching accreditation and music and language qualifications. This dramatically shifted the mind-set of his leadership team, particularly as he does not have children, reinforcing the message that flexible working is for all.

 

Performance management

Line-managers ultimately bear a large responsibility for the successful management of flexible working for which many are often ill-equipped. Indeed, such are the recognised difficulties of managing a remote workforce that there is a growing range of supporting resources. But fundamental to all types of working, flexible or otherwise, is the setting between manager and employee of clear objectives, deliverables and timeframes. Here the focus is on performance and outcomes with work being done anywhere it suits best the person delivering them, rather than on inputs such as face-time in the office. 

With the growing change in demographics and life styles, flexible working is likely to become more widespread. This could go hand-in-hand with other expected trends as more Millennials enter the workplace such as flatter and less hierarchical organisational structures and a focus on delivery and individual performance. Whatever the trends, trust will always be important.  Organisations with high-trust cultures will be best placed to maximise the benefits flexible working offers. 

Helen Wright is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Great Place to Work.